Norwich, Castle Mall

Norfolk Archaeological Unit, 2009

Data copyright © Norfolk Archaeological Unit unless otherwise stated

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Dr Liz Popescu
Post Excavations and Publications Manager
Oxford Archaeology (East)
15 Trafalgar Way
Bar Hill
CB23 8SQ
Tel: 01954 204193
Fax: 01954 273376

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Norfolk Archaeological Unit (2009) Norwich, Castle Mall [data-set]. York: Archaeology Data Service [distributor]


Funded by English Heritage and the developer (Estates and General/Friends Provident), extensive excavations in central Norwich have permitted detailed analysis of the great Norman and medieval institution of Norwich Castle and part of the Anglo-Saxon town that preceded it. The results appear in four volumes of the East Anglian Archaeology series:

Norwich Castle: Excavations and Historical Survey, 1987-98, Part I: Anglo-Saxon to c.1345, by E. Shepherd Popescu, East Anglian Archaeology 132
Norwich Castle: Excavations and Historical Survey, 1987-98, Part II: c.1345 to Modern, by E. Shepherd Popescu, East Anglian Archaeology 132
Norwich Castle: Excavations and Historical Survey, 1987-98, Part III: A Zooarchaeological Study, by U. Albarella, M. Beech, J. Curl, A. Locker, M. Moreno-García and J. Mulville, with E. Shepherd Popescu, East Anglian Archaeology Occasional Paper 22
Norwich Castle: Excavations and Historical Survey, 1987-98, Part IV: People and Property in the Documentary Record, by M. Tillyard, with E. Shepherd Popescu, East Anglian Archaeology Occasional Paper 23.

Reconstruction of Norwich Castle

Reconstruction of Norwich Castle as it may have appeared in the late 11th century, showing the timber keep on its small motte. The possible extent of the ditched Castle Fee boundary is indicated, with the church and cemetery of St John lying just outside the castle's south gate. (© Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service. Painted by Nick Arber)

The digital archive that appears on these web pages forms the fifth element of the publication and presents detailed information on the various cemeteries that were sealed by the castle defences, as well as a group of 17th-century prison burials found on the castle mound.

Use the link below for more information on the Castle Mall excavations:

Results Summary

The massive Castle Mall development in the historic core of Norwich provided a unique archaeological opportunity: the work involved excavation within and around the defences of the only 11th-century royal castle in Norfolk and Suffolk. This is one of only a handful of such fortifications in the country where excavation has not been restricted to the defences and/or to small areas of the bailey. The Norman castle was placed at the end of a spine of high ground (known locally as the Ber Street ridge), where the underlying geology is Beeston chalk overlain by Norwich crag (a Pleistocene deposit of sands, gravels and clay). Despite the masking effects of modern buildings, steep natural slopes still exist around the site to the north-east and west, with much of the southern area forming a relatively level plateau.

The castle had been placed over part of the Late Saxon town, with traces of Middle Saxon activity in the form of burials. Although burials attributable to the Middle Saxon period were found, this does not appear to have been, as had been supposed, the site of the Middle Saxon settlement of Needham. Instead, the bulk of the pre-Conquest remains indicate development on the fringes of a more extensive Late Saxon settlement. There is evidence for domestic buildings or workshops, a multitude of pits of various types and functions, boundary or drainage ditches and cemeteries, all with the potential to provide a picture of life in a pre-Conquest town. One cemetery - that of St John de Berstrete/Timberhill - revealed (inter alia) evidence for a significant group of individuals who had suffered from leprosy.

Construction of a timber castle followed soon after the Norman Conquest (probably between 1067/1068 and 1070), with the first documentary reference made in 1075 when its defences were substantial enough to withstand a protracted siege. Evidence for the impact of castle building comes not only from documentary sources (Domesday Book of 1086 records 98 houses destroyed or enclosed; Brown 1984, 116b (1.61)) but also in excavated evidence for the abandonment, destruction or possibly even reuse of buildings within the subsequent south bailey. A large area of crown land - the Castle Fee or Liberty - was defined around the fortification at an early date (Shepherd Popescu 2004). This boundary may have been marked, at least partially, by a ditch which was observed at Castle Mall and Golden Ball Street, as well as other excavations further west. Other early ditchwork was set within the Fee and included defences for bridge landings.

Norwich Castle's surviving stone keep and bridge (c.1094-1122) replaced their timber forerunners, with two baileys augmenting an enlarged motte. Evidence for both baileys has been excavated: the Castle Meadow or north-east bailey (at the Castle Mall and Anglian Television sites; for the latter see Ayers 1985) and the larger south bailey (at Castle Mall and Golden Ball Street). Masonry gatehouses were added and a deep well placed within a forework (later to become a barbican) at the foot of the new bridge.

The 13th century saw alterations to the defences with the creation of a massive barbican ditch and bank, replacing its smaller forerunner. The castle served mainly as an administrative centre and prison from about 1300 and the baileys were granted to the city in 1345 with the mound, keep and Shirehouse (lying within the south bailey) remaining Crown property. Throughout the later medieval and post-medieval periods the baileys were used for grazing, industrial activities and quarrying. Tenements encroached around the fringes of the former defences, some 71 being documented within the Castle Fee which remained an administrative entity until the 19th century (Tillyard, with Shepherd Popescu, forthcoming).

Landscaping took place in 1738, prior to the construction of a Cattle Market and again in 1862 when new roads were added. In 1939 air-raid shelters were built and in 1960 the area became a car park following the relocation of the Cattle Market. The south bailey was destined to become a massive underground shopping complex, but to this day retains the character of an open space: a park has been laid out on the roof.